By Bill Spinks

In the words of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football managing editor Greg Tepper on Tuesday, Texas high school football "got a facelift."

The University Interscholastic League has postponed the start of the high school fall sports season for Class 6A and 5A football and volleyball teams, in reaction to the continued surge of the COVID-19 pandemic in the state.

For schools in Class 4A and below, the UIL will allow fall sports to start on time: football, volleyball, cross country and team tennis. State playoff schedules for the smallest four classifications will remain unchanged from the normal timeline. Football and volleyball practice will begin on Aug. 3 as scheduled, and team tennis and cross-country can begin competition against other schools Aug. 17 as scheduled.

In Ellis County, the four schools that are affected by the staggered start are Class 6A Waxahachie, and Class 5A Midlothian, Red Oak and Ennis. Football and volleyball practice for these schools will begin on Sept. 7, five weeks later. The first games for football will be Sept. 24 and for volleyball will be Sept. 14 for these four high schools.

Waxahachie’s football season-opener at Rowlett, therefore, is on once again and, without any changes, will take place Friday, Sept. 25. The other games on this new big-school opening night will be Red Oak at Ennis and Fort Worth Brewer at Midlothian.

For the big four schools, team tennis and cross-country will be allowed to hold their first competitions starting Sept. 7.

The UIL’s rationale behind starting the season later for big schools is to give them time to take precautions against COVID-19 as most of these schools are in highly-populated metro areas, while smaller schools theoretically are in less-populated areas and can more easily control the spread.

The good news is that each sport will still play a full season. The football playoffs for 6A and 5A will start in early December and extend through January, rather than ending before Christmas. The 6A and 5A volleyball state tournament, instead of taking place in November, is now set for Dec. 11-12.

"Our goal in releasing this plan is to provide a path forward for Texas students and schools," UIL Executive Director Dr. Charles Breithaupt said in a statement. "While understanding situations change and there will likely be interruptions that will require flexibility and patience, we are hopeful this plan allows students to participate in the education-based activities they love in a way that prioritizes safety and mitigates risk of COVID-19 spread."

The UIL’s decision came after authorities in several locations, including Dallas County, announced the suspension of high school athletics. Dallas County last week prohibited all extracurricular activities — including sports — at all public and private schools within its borders until at least Sept. 7.

The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools also delayed the start of games for all members until Sept. 8, which affects Ovilla Christian School in football and volleyball. The volleyball team is coming off a TAPPS Class 2A state championship season. The football Eagles had an open date in Week 1, but a Week 2 home game against Waco Christian will be canceled.

In the meantime, the other eight high schools in Ellis County will have the Friday night spotlight all on themselves for the first four weeks. But four of these schools will have to re-rack their schedules in order to play on opening night.

Midlothian Heritage will have to find a season-opening replacement for Class 5A Everman, whose season will be delayed by the new UIL schedule. In fact, the Jaguars will need to replace three non-district opponents in all.

Also, Italy will have to reschedule its Aug. 27 game at Dallas A+ Academy, a school still affected by the Dallas County order.

A McLennan County order prohibiting sports for the first two weeks that is similar to Dallas County’s order will affect two more Ellis County schools. Life Waxahachie may have to reschedule its Aug. 28 opener as the Mustangs were set to travel to Waco Connally; and Milford’s home game against Waco Vanguard will also have to be changed.

The Week 1 football games that should proceed as previously scheduled are Ferris at Maypearl, Kemp at Palmer, and Avalon at Abbott.